A line is a unit of language into which a poem or play is divided. The use of a line operates on principles which are distinct from and not necessarily coincident with grammatical structures, such as the sentence or single clauses in sentences. Although the word for a single poetic line is verse , that term now tends to be used to signify poetic form more generally.A line break is the termination of the line of a poem and the beginning of a new line.
The process of arranging words using lines and line breaks is known as lineation, and is one of poetry's defining features.A distinct numbered group of lines in verse is normally called a stanza . A title, in some poems, is considered a line.
Conventions that determine what might constitute line in poetry depend upon different constraints, aural characteristics or scripting conventions for any given language. On the whole, where relevant, a line is generally determined either by units of rhythm or repeating aural patterns in recitation that can also be marked by other features such as rhyme or alliteration, or by patterns of syllable-count.
In Western literary traditions, use of line is arguably the principal feature which distinguishes poetry from prose. Even in poems where formal metre or rhyme is weakly observed or absent, the convention of line continues on the whole to be observed, at least in written representations, although there are exceptions (see Degrees of license ). In such writing, simple visual appearance on a page (or any other written layout) remains sufficient to determine poetic line, and this sometimes leads to the suggestion that the work in question is no longer a poem but "chopped up prose".A dropped line is a line broken into two parts, with the second indented to remain visually sequential.
In the standard conventions of Western literature, the line break is usually but not always at the left margin. Line breaks may occur mid-clause, creating enjambment, a term that literally means 'to straddle'. Enjambment "tend[s] to increase the pace of the poem",whereas end-stopped lines, which are lines that break on caesuras (thought-pauses often represented by ellipsis), emphasize these silences and slow the poem down.
Line breaks may also serve to signal a change of movement or to suppress or highlight certain internal features of the poem, such as a rhyme or slant rhyme. Line breaks can be a source of dynamism, providing a method by which poetic forms imbue their contents with intensities and corollary meanings that would not have been possible to the same degree in other forms of text.
Distinct forms of line, as defined in various verse traditions, are usually categorised according to different rhythmical, aural or visual patterns and metrical length appropriate to the language in question. (See Metre.)
One visual convention that is optionally used to convey a traditional use of line in printed settings is capitalisation of the first letter of the first word of each line regardless of other punctuation in the sentence, but it is not necessary to adhere to this. Other formally patterning elements, such as end-rhyme, may also strongly indicate how lines occur in verse.
In the speaking of verse, a line ending may be pronounced using a momentary pause, especially when its metrical composition is end-stopped, or it may be elided such that the utterance can flow seamlessly over the line break in what can be called run-on.
In more "free" forms, and in free verse in particular, conventions for the use of line become, arguably, more arbitrary and more visually determined such that they may only be properly apparent in typographical representation and/or page layout.
One extreme deviation from a conventional rule for line can occur in concrete poetry where the primacy of the visual component may over-ride or subsume poetic line in the generally regarded sense, or sound poems in which the aural component stretches the concept of line beyond any purely semantic coherence.
At another extreme, the prose poem simply eschews poetic line altogether.
The line break within 'must/n't' allows a double reading of the word as both 'must' and 'mustn't', whereby the reader is made aware that old age both enjoins and forbids the activities of youth. At the same time, the line break subverts 'mustn't': the forbidding of a certain activity—in the poem's context, the moral control the old try to enforce upon the young—only serves to make that activity more enticing.
While Cummings's line breaks are used in a poetic form that is intended to be appreciated through a visual, printed medium, line breaks are also present in poems predating the advent of printing.
Examples are to be found, for instance, in Shakespeare's sonnets. Here are two examples of this technique operating in different ways in Shakespeare's Cymbeline :
In the first example, the line break between the last two lines cuts them apart, emphasizing the cutting off of the head:
With his own sword,
Which he did wave against my throat, I have ta'en
His head from him.
In the second example, the text before the line break retains a meaning in isolation from the contents of the new line. This meaning is encountered by the reader before it being modified by the text after the line break, which clarifies that, instead of "I, as a person, as a mind, am 'absolute,'" it 'really' means: "I am absolutely sure it was Cloten":
I am absolute;
'Twas very Cloten.
In every type of literature there is a metrical pattern that can be described as "basic" or even "national"[ dubious ]. The most famous and widely used line of verse in English prosody is the iambic pentameter, while one of the most common of traditional lines in surviving classical Latin and Greek prosody was the hexameter. In modern Greek poetry hexameter was replaced by line of fifteen syllables. In French poetry alexandrine is the most typical pattern. In Italian literature the hendecasyllable, which is a metre of eleven syllables, is the most common line. In Serbian ten syllable lines were used in long epic poems. In Polish poetry two types of line were very popular, an 11-syllable one, based on Italian verse and 13-syllable one, based both on Latin verse and French alexandrine. Classical Sanskrit poetry, such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, was most famously composed using the shloka.
Pioneers of the freer use of line in Western culture include Whitman and Apollinaire.
Where the lines are broken in relation to the ideas in the poem it affects the feeling of reading the poetry. For example, the feeling may be jagged or startling versus soothing and natural, which can be used to reinforce or contrast the ideas in the poem. Lines are often broken between words, but there is certainly a great deal of poetry where at least some of the lines are broken in the middles of words: this can be a device for achieving inventive rhyme schemes.
In general, line breaks divide the poetry into smaller units called lines, (this is a modernisation of the term verse) which are often interpreted in terms of their self-contained meanings and aesthetic values: hence the term "good line". Line breaks, indentations, and the lengths of individual words determine the visual shape of the poetry on the page, which is a common aspect of poetry but never the sole purpose of a line break. A dropped line is a line broken into two parts, in which the second part is indented to remain visually sequential through spacing. In metric poetry, the places where the lines are broken are determined by the decision to have the lines composed from specific numbers of syllables.
Prose poetry is poetry without line breaks in accordance to paragraph structure as opposed to stanza. Enjambment is a line break in the middle of a sentence, phrase or clause, or one that offers internal (sub)text or rhythmically jars for added emphasis. Alternation between enjambment and end-stopped lines is characteristic of some complex and well composed poetry, such as in Milton's Paradise Lost .
A new line can begin with a lowercase or capital letter. New lines beginning with lowercase letters vaguely correspond with the shift from earlier to later poetry: for example, the poet John Ashbery usually begins his lines with capital letters prior to his 1991 book-length poem "Flow-Chart", whereas in and after "Flow-Chart" he almost invariably begins lines with lowercase letters unless the beginning of the line is also the beginning of a new sentence. There is, however, some much earlier poetry where new lines begin with lowercase letters.
Beginning a line with an uppercase letter when the beginning of the line does not coincide with the beginning of a new sentence is referred to by some as "majusculation". (this is an invented term derived from majuscule). The correct term is a coroneted verse.
In T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, where ambiguity abounds, a line break in the opening (ll. 5–7) starts things off.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Because the lines start with capitalized letters, Eliot could be saying "Earth" as the planet or "earth" as the soil.
Alexandrine is a name used for several distinct types of verse line with related metrical structures, most of which are ultimately derived from the classical French alexandrine. The line's name derives from its use in the Medieval French Roman d'Alexandre of 1170, although it had already been used several decades earlier in Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne. The foundation of most alexandrines consists of two hemistichs (half-lines) of six syllables each, separated by a caesura :
o o o o o o | o o o o o o o=any syllable; |=caesura
Dactylic hexameter is a form of meter or rhythmic scheme in poetry. It is traditionally associated with the quantitative meter of classical epic poetry in both Greek and Latin and was consequently considered to be the grand style of Western classical poetry. Some premier examples of its use are Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, and Ovid's Metamorphoses. Hexameters also form part of elegiac poetry in both languages, the elegiac couplet being a dactylic hexameter line paired with a dactylic pentameter line.
An epic poem is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily involving a time beyond living memory in which occurred the extraordinary doings of the extraordinary men and women who, in dealings with the gods or other superhuman forces, gave shape to the mortal universe for their descendants, the poet and their audience, to understand themselves as a people or nation.
The elegiac couplet is a poetic form used by Greek lyric poets for a variety of themes usually of smaller scale than the epic. Roman poets, particularly Catullus, Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid, adopted the same form in Latin many years later. As with the English heroic, each couplet usually makes sense on its own, while forming part of a larger work.
In poetry, enjambment is incomplete syntax at the end of a line; the meaning runs over from one poetic line to the next, without terminal punctuation. Lines without enjambment are end-stopped.
Free verse is an open form of poetry, which in its modern form arose through the French vers libre form. It does not use consistent meter patterns, rhyme, or any musical pattern. It thus tends to follow the rhythm of natural speech.
A heroic couplet is a traditional form for English poetry, commonly used in epic and narrative poetry, and consisting of a rhyming pair of lines in iambic pentameter. Use of the heroic couplet was pioneered by Geoffrey Chaucer in the Legend of Good Women and the Canterbury Tales, and generally considered to have been perfected by John Dryden and Alexander Pope in the Restoration Age and early 18th century respectively.
In poetry, metre or meter is the basic rhythmic structure of a verse or lines in verse. Many traditional verse forms prescribe a specific verse metre, or a certain set of metres alternating in a particular order. The study and the actual use of metres and forms of versification are both known as prosody.
Poetry is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and often rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning.
A rhyme is a repetition of similar sounds in the final stressed syllables and any following syllables of two or more words. Most often, this kind of perfect rhyming is consciously used for artistic effect in the final position of lines within poems or songs. More broadly, a rhyme may also variously refer to other types of similar sounds near the ends of two or more words. Furthermore, the word rhyme has come to be sometimes used as a shorthand term for any brief poem, such as a nursery rhyme or Balliol rhyme.
A caesura, also written cæsura and cesura, is a metrical pause or break in a verse where one phrase ends and another phrase begins. It may be expressed by a comma (,), a tick (✓), or two lines, either slashed (//) or upright (||). In time value, this break may vary between the slightest perception of silence all the way up to a full pause. The length of a caesura where notated is at the discretion of the conductor.
In prosody, alliterative verse is a form of verse that uses alliteration as the principal ornamental device to help indicate the underlying metrical structure, as opposed to other devices such as rhyme. The most commonly studied traditions of alliterative verse are those found in the oldest literature of the Germanic languages, where scholars use the term 'alliterative poetry' rather broadly to indicate a tradition which not only shares alliteration as its primary ornament but also certain metrical characteristics. The Old English epic Beowulf, as well as most other Old English poetry, the Old High German Muspilli, the Old Saxon Heliand, the Old Norse Poetic Edda, and many Middle English poems such as Piers Plowman, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the Alliterative Morte Arthur all use alliterative verse.
Syllabic verse is a poetic form having a fixed or constrained number of syllables per line, while stress, quantity, or tone play a distinctly secondary role — or no role at all — in the verse structure. It is common in languages that are syllable-timed, such as Japanese or modern French or Finnish — as opposed to stress-timed languages such as English, in which accentual verse and accentual-syllabic verse are more common.
Iambic pentameter is a type of metric line used in traditional English poetry and verse drama. The term describes the rhythm, or meter, established by the words in that line; rhythm is measured in small groups of syllables called "feet". "Iambic" refers to the type of foot used, here the iamb, which in English indicates an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. "Pentameter" indicates a line of five "feet".
This glossary of literary terms is a list of definitions of terms and concepts used in the discussion, classification, analysis, and criticism of all types of literature, such as poetry, novels, and picture books, as well as of grammar, syntax, and language techniques. For a more complete glossary of terms relating to poetry in particular, see Glossary of poetry terms.
This is a glossary of poetry.
The following outline is provided as an overview of and introduction to poetry:
Political verse, also known as decapentasyllabic verse, is a common metric form in Medieval and Modern Greek poetry. It is an iambic verse of fifteen syllables and has been the main meter of traditional popular and folk poetry since the Byzantine period.
The French alexandrine is a syllabic poetic meter of 12 syllables with a medial caesura dividing the line into two hemistichs (half-lines) of six syllables each. It was the dominant long line of French poetry from the 17th through the 19th century, and influenced many other European literatures which developed alexandrines of their own.
Poetic devices are a form of literary device used in poetry. A poem is created out of poetic devices composite of: structural, grammatical, rhythmic, metrical, verbal, and visual elements. They are essential tools that a poet uses to create rhythm, enhance a poem's meaning, or intensify a mood or feeling.
Some critics go so far as to say that lineation is the defining characteristic of poetry, and many would say it’s certainly one major difference between most poetry and prose.